The Queen's Speech

The Queen’s Speech this week, announcing the Government’s legislative programme for the year, included a number of measures which are especially relevant to us in West Sussex.

A Digital Economy Bill will put new obligations on broadband providers to make sure that everyone has access to an affordable high speed internet connection.

The Government believes that it is on track to get superfast broadband to 95 per cent of households by next year, and this week restated its determination to ensure that the final 5 per cent are not left behind.

I’ve been pressing hard for measures to close the “digital divide” and ensure that rural West Sussex is not disadvantaged.  I discussed this issue with West Sussex County Council last week.

BT is returning some money to the Council which can be used to extend the superfast roll-out, and the Government has announced that the Universal Service Obligation will ensure that even the most remote areas will be legally entitled to fast broadband by 2020.

A Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill is intended to reform planning and give local communities more power to control and shape their own area.

When I raised the need to protect neighbourhood plans in the Commons recently, the Government said that they would look at necessary measures - so I hope that this Bill will do this.

The Education for All Bill will include the new funding formula to deliver the Government’s manifesto commitment for fair schools funding - a really welcome measure which West Sussex MPs pressed hard for in our county.  Our schools are not funded fairly and deserve equal treatment.

There are other measures in the Queen’s Speech of particular interest to me as I championed many of the proposed changes - a Bill of Rights to ensure common sense in our human rights laws, a Prisons and Courts Reform Bill to implement the penal reforms which I developed in Opposition, and a Policing and Crime Bill to strengthen police accountability and introduce collaboration between the blue light services.

Finally, I was pleased to see the announcement of a National Citizen Service Bill to see this programme expanded.  I’ve always thought that National Citizen Service for young people was a great idea, and having attended an awards ceremony for it locally and talked to the teenagers who took part, hearing how much the scheme did for them, I am even more convinced.

Nick Herbert